WHAT’S BETTER THAN PANCAKES? “PANCAKES IN PARIS”!
Pancakes In Paris is the new memoir by restaurant entrepreneur Craig Carlson, the owner of the successful Breakfast In America chain in France. Raised in suburban upstate Connecticut, Carlson seemed like an unlikely candidate for introducing our famously indulgent American breakfasts to the country known for its quiche Lorraine, foie gras, steak tartare, and escargot. Of Polish and Finnish ancestry, the author claims no Gallic heritage. However, an impromptu choice of French as a foreign language in high school led to an invitation to a study abroad program. Before you can say “Au revoir!”, the teenager found himself in the so-called “La Ville Lumière”. Carlson recalls, “Perhaps the happiest moment of my life was when I arrived in Paris for the first time. To give you a sense of what it felt like, imagine the following scene: The airport shuttle pulls up to the curb and the door opens. I step out onto the sunny Parisian streets, beaming like Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits of her TV show, overcome by such bridled joy that I can’t help but spin around and toss my beret into the air”. Carlson fell in love with the country. Mostly, he fell in love with the French mantras of living life to the fullest– perhaps best manifested by their culture’s appreciation for fine food and wine. It was a gastronomic epiphany of sorts: “So this is what all the fuss is about!… Food was more than just sustenance– more than just something that kept us alive. It WAS alive. Even more, it was something that connected us to the earth, to our physical selves, and most importantly, to each other”.
One thing that Carlson missed, however, was a “real American breakfast”: ham steak, scrambled eggs, home-fried potatoes, and buckwheat pancakes. Apparently, in France, every breakfast was the same: “croissants and ‘pains au chocolat’, croissants and ‘pains au chocolat’…” It was a calling of sorts when thee author– a filmmaker and screenwriter with limited business experience– changed gears completely in 2003. He got the idea to open the first bona fide American diner in his adoptive country– called “Breakfast in America”. (If that sounds like the name of a Supertramp album, you’re right. More about that in the book…) But wait a minute! Don’t most restaurants have a hugely high failure rate? Would an American diner in Paris even work? After all, the French generally didn’t have high opinions of American cuisine, although Carlson’s French focus group concurred, “Breakfast is the one meal that you Americans do right!” What followed was a L-O-N-G journey to realize that dream, with many euphoric highs and just as many crippling lows along the way. (The final segment of the book is named “Digestif: Le Grande Disillusion”.) As the author himself puts it, “I would barely survive to tell the tale”. Eventually, the restaurateur found his dream as well as, shall we say, “amour”– in the form of his handsome husband Julien. After more than a decade in business, Breakfast in America is thriving, and continuing to introduce the French people to big breakfasts, milkshakes, burgers, and other treats that we take for granted, like the “bah-guelle” (bagel).
Pancakes in Paris is a funny, inspiring, moving, and provocative story. Reading how Carlson navigates through a French legal, social and economic system (which, say the least, is VERY different from America’s) on his journey to success is no less than fascinating. The book has an infinite number of priceless moments, such as Carlson describing his French costumers trying to use an old-fashioned sugar dispenser for the first time, or how they eat their hamburgers (Two hands? Never!). In addition, the book also features recipes for two of his restaurant’s trademark dishes: “CC’s Big Mess” and “The Super ‘Breakfast In America’ Burger”– as well as a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon from “Belle Maman”, his French mother-in-law Elisabeth.
The author celebrated Pancakes In Paris with a book party at Manhattan’s Shakespeare & Co. bookstore this past Monday,September 26th, complete with readings from the book, a Q&A from the audience, and… enough Brie and Croque-Monsieur to make any New Yorker smile widely. After reading Pancakes In Paris, you’ll be smiling widely as well.
The book is available from www.Amazon.com.